The two top cops in Los Angeles County, Sheriff Alex Villanueva and Los Angeles Police Department Chief Michel Moore, fielded questions and provided answers regarding public safety and local law enforcement during a virtual community meeting on Monday.
Topics ranged from the national ongoing conversation about race and policing, to mental health services, to illegal drag racing on public streets.
However, a large topic of dialogue during the meeting was what the Sheriff Department has been seeing in recent weeks as it relates to an increase in violent crimes countywide. According to Villanueva, as of April 13 the county had a 120% increase in criminal homicide and an almost 17% increase in aggravated assault.
A portion of that “is related to gang violence. We also have others that are domestic-related acts of violence,” said Villanueva, “and some that just appear random that there’s no rhyme and reason to them.”
Villanueva said the pandemic has been a large driver behind these latest numbers, with COVID-19 having resulted in almost universal changes in behavior, movement and/or forcing people to be cramped in with one another for extended periods of time.
Another factor for the rise in violence, Villanueva said, is the defunding of the department and a belief by some suspects that there are presently less consequences to violence.
“But we’re reacting by doing what we can do best, which is working and forming strong partnerships with the community, and finding ways to come together to resolve crime,” said Villanueva. “Three big things that I need to push to every single responsible member of the community is teach our kids to respect authority, reject violence and keep your guns at home.
“Those three things combined is a very, very powerful recipe to resolve a lot of the violence that we’re seeing today,” he added.
In response to a question about the ongoing trial of Derek Chauvin, the former Minneapolis police officer charged with the murder of George Floyd, and the possibility of a return to nationwide demonstrations and/or civil disobedience, Villanueva said the department would defend the demonstrators’ right to protest, but act decisively to end violence.
“We’re going to always respect people’s right to protest. We’re going to defend everyone’s First Amendment right to assemble … but it has to be peaceful,” he said. “That’s all we’re asking for: peaceful protests. If (the protesters) decide to become violent, or cross over in lawlessness, we will take immediate, decisive action. Period.”